China's Meituan Dianping to join maps service battle

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Meituan Dianping, a Chinese online food delivery-to-ticketing firm, has started building a mapping service, aiming to enter an area currently dominated by Alibaba’s AutoNavi and Baidu Maps.

FILE PHOTO: A company logo of China's Meituan Dianping, an online food delivery-to-ticketing services platform, is displayed at a news conference on its IPO in Hong Kong, China September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

A spokeswoman for Meituan told Reuters the company was working on the project, after it advertised more than a dozen positions on job hunting website on Tuesday for a new service it called “Meituan Maps”. The positions it is looking for range from data mining engineer to machine learning expert.

“We can confirm that Meituan is working on a mapping business,” the spokeswoman said.

Chinese media last month reported that Meituan had hired a former vice-president at peer-to-peer second-hand car trading platform Renrenche, who was previously employed by Baidu Maps, to join the team. Meituan’s spokeswoman confirmed the hiring.

Meituan, a cross between U.S. discounting platform Groupon and online review firm Yelp, is a so-called super app offering many services such as hotel booking, movie ticketing, and listings of local businesses.

It is among a breed of Chinese tech upstarts, alongside video-streaming app TikTok’s owner Bytedance and ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, that have emerged in recent years and are threatening the dominance of Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent.

Meituan recently surpassed search giant Baidu and e-commerce giant Inc in market capitalization.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Meituan Maps was part of the firm’s location-based services platform and was aimed at improving navigation for the unit’s bike sharing, ride hailing and public transportation services.

Meituan’s spokeswoman said the location-based services platform was established in October.

AutoNavi and Baidu Maps are the two leading mapping apps in China, although others like Tencent Maps also exist.

Telecom giant Huawei is also planning to launch a mapping service, Map Kit, in October, as it faces a potential U.S. ban on using Google Maps in its smartphones overseas.

Meituan currently uses AutoNavi and Tencent Maps for its bike sharing and ride hailing services. Meituan’s local listing app Dazhong Dianping, dubbed China’s Yelp, also embeds Baidu Maps and AutoNavi for users who need directions to restaurants or clubs they find on the Dazhong Dianping app.

Reporting by Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Mark Potter